USA basketball: The new AAU?

At least, that's what Mike Krzyzewski thinks. From the Fayetteville Observer:

"Look," he said, "there's nothing better that a high school or collegiate kid could do than to play USA Basketball. There is nothing better."

Furthermore, Krzyzewski was quick to point out just how many high school stars -- most notably Class of 2011 gems like Rivers, McAdoo, wing Quincy Miller, guard Quinn Cook, guard Marquis Teague and forward Michael Gilchrist -- prioritized USA Basketball this summer over AAU ball.

"We're moving in that direction," Krzyzewski said. "And that's a big deal."

That might be a little bit of Coach K's famous patriotism speaking, but he has a point. AAU and summer league basketball has a reputation, largely deserved, of being uncompetitive summer hoops filler. In many cases, AAU is far less structured than your average high school basketball team, let alone a college program. Defense is a secondary concern. Bad habits reign. You know the drill.

USA Basketball, on the other hand, does have the benefit of structure. The games are competitive. The opponents aren't friends. The coaches, even the assistants and staffers, are college level. Moreover, players don't lose anything by way of exposure: A good performance in the FIBA U18 championships, for example, can boost one's recruiting stock just as much as any AAU display could. Just ask Austin Rivers.

And hey, maybe pivoting slightly away from AAU hoops could help alleviate the presence of agents, shoe-runners and other nefarious types in prep basketball. So there's that.

Of course, not everybody can play for the good ole US of A; as currently constructed, there are simply too many talented prospects at any given age group. Nor is it necessarily preferable to the AAU circuit for many players, some of whom might not want to travel overseas for competitions. But it would be interesting to see USA Basketball evolve into its own sort of ancillary developmental system, the way many foreign soccer nations (Germany is the shining example) prioritize player development at the national level over club involvement from an early age. It may never take hold, but it's an option. And if any ambassador can spread the idea, it's Coach K.